I think that part of its success is down to the consistently high standards ESOMAR sets on paper submission, only 1 in 5 papers get selected and it also demands a lot more robust thinking from its participants. What you get as a result from this conference is a really thoughtful mixture of new ideas, philosophy and argued out science.
This year was one of the strongest collections of papers ever assembled, so much so that the selection committee asked to extend the prizes beyond 1st place. There were 6 major themes that emerged and 1 paper that I think could go on to have a major impact well beyond the boundaries of market research and I returned home with 23 new buzzwords and phrases to add to my growing collection (see other post).
The big themes1. The Physiological data age: At this conference we witness some of the baby steps being taken into the world of wearable technology; and a prostration by Gawain Morrison from SENSUM who were one of the stars of the event, that we are about to enter the physiological data age. They showed us a galvanic skin response recording of a 7 hour train journey which revealed the insight that the highest stress point on the journey was not caused by any delays or anxiety to reach the station but when the on-board internet service went down! IPSOS are one of many MR companies to start experimenting with google glasses and showed us how they were using them to conduct some ethnographic research amongst new parents for Kimberly Clarke. We saw some wonderful footage of a father interacting with his new born child in such a natural and intimate way it does not take much of a leap of the imagination to realise wearable technology is going to be a big topic in future MR events.
2. The Big Privacy issues looming over these new techniques: With the rise of wearable devices raises a whole range of new issues surrounding data privacy that was widely discussed at this conference, Alex Johnson highlighted in his award winning work Exploring the Practical Use of Wearable Video Devices, which won best paper, - the central emerging dilemma - it’s almost impossible to avoid gathering accidental data from people and companies who have not given their consent to take part in the research when doing wearable research. It’s critical for the research industry to take stock of.
3. Developing the new skills needed to process massive quantities of data: The second big focus of this conference, that Alex Johnson’s paper also highlighted, was the enormity of the data evaluation tasks researchers face in the future, for example processing hundreds of hours of video and meta data generated from wearable devices. Image processing software is a long way from being able to efficiently process high volumes of content right now. He had some good ideas, to process this type of data. He proposed a whole new methodological approach which centres around building taxonomies and short cuts for what a computer should look for and a more iterative analytical approach. In one of the most impressive papers at the conference TNS & Absolute Data provided an analytical guide to how they deconstructed 20 million hours of mobile phone data to build a detailed story about our mobile phone usage, that could be utilised as a media planning platform for the phone – the research battle ground of the future is surely going to be fought on who has the best data processing skills.
4. De-siloed research techniques: I wish I could think of a better simple phrase to describe this idea as it was probably the strongest message coming out of the ESOMAR DD conference - the emergence of a next generation class of more de-siloed research methodologies, that combined a much richer range of less conventional techniques and a more intelligent use of research participants. Hall & Partners described a new multi-channel research approach that involved a more longitudinal relationship with a carefully selected small sample of participants where across 4 stages of activity they engaged them in a mix of mobile diary, forum discussion and conventional online research - challenging them to not just answer questions but help solve real marketing problems; Millward brown described a collaboration with Facebook where they mixed qual and mobile intercept research and task based exercises to understand more about how mobiles are used as part of the shopping experience; Mesh Planning described how they integrated live research data with fluid data analysis to help a media agency dynamically adjust their advertising activity; IPSOS showed us some amazing work for Kimberly-Clarke that spanned the use of Facebook to do preliminary qual, social media analysis, traditional home based ethography, and a new technique of glassnoraphy. What all these research companies demonstrated was that decoupled from the constraints of convention, given a good open brief from a client and access to not just the research data that the research company can generate but the data the client has themselves we saw some research companies doing some amazing things!
5. Mining more insights from open ended feedback: Text analytics in infancy focussed on basic understanding of sentiment but 3 great papers at the event showed how much more sophisticated we are becoming at deciphering open ended feedback. Examining search queries seems to be a big underutilised area for market researcher right now and KOS Research and Clustaar elegantly outline how you could gather really deep understanding of people’s buying motivations by statistically analysing the search queries around a topic. Annie Pettit from Peanut Labs, looking at the same issue from the other end of the telescope, showed how the suggestions to improve brands and new product development opportunities could be extracted from social media chatter by the careful deconstruction of the language they used to express these ideas. And Alex Wheatley, in my team at GMI, who I am proud to say won a silver prize for his paper, highlighted just how powerful open ended feedback from traditional market research surveys could be when subjected to quant scale statistical analysis, rivalling and often surpassing the quality of feedback from banks of closed questions.
6. Better understanding the role of mobile phones & tablets in our lives: We learnt a whole lot more about the role of mobile phones and tablets in our lives at the conference, some of it quite scary. We had expansive looks at this topic from Google, Yahoo and Facebook. AOL provided some useful “Shapely value” analysis to highlight the value of different devices for different tasks and activities, it demonstrated how the tablet is emerging as such an important “evening device” , its role in the kitchen and bedroom and how the combination of these devices opens up our access to brands. We learn how significant the smart phone is when we go retail shopping for a combination of social and investigative research reasons. We learn about the emergence of the “Google shop assistant” many people preferring to use google in shops to search for their shopping queries than actually ask the shop assistants and how we use the phone to seek shopping advice from our friends and how many of us post our trophy purchases on social media.
The impact of technology on our memory
The paper that had the single most impact at the conference was some research by Nick Drew from Yahoo! and Olga Churkina from Fresh Intelligence Research showing how our use of smart phone devices is really impacting on our short term memory – we are subcontracting so many reminder tasks to the technology we carry around with us that we are not using our memory so actively and this was demonstrated by a range of simple short term memory test correlated with mobile phone usage found the heavier smart phone users performing less well. The smart phone is becoming part of our brain! This obviously has much bigger implications outside of the world of market research and so I am sure we are going to hear a lot more about this topic in the future.
Scary thought, which made the great end session by Alex Debnovsky from BBDO about going on a digital detox all the more salient. I am going to be taking one soon!